Planning (Or Not) For Spring Break & Other Holidays
We’d been itching to get to Pismo Beach for years. A cute little coastal town with a 100% dog-friendly beach walking distance from camp. Perfection! So, we planned our entire March route around it and figured we’d just roll into town and find a spot when we got there. No problem, right?
Well, we hit a teeny tiny snag -> we zonked and totally forgot about the big Spring Break holidays. Nooooooo!
If you’re a fulltime RVer and “beast” size to boot, this is nothing to laugh about. Not only do all the popular campgrounds fill up to the brim, but the whole CA coast becomes party central for holiday families and a bunch of drunken 20-somethings. Would we be able to find a site? And then would we regret it if we did?
The RV Travel Planning Dilemma
The whole “will we find a site and will we fit” is a common stress problem for big rigs traveling the CA coast, and popular holidays like Spring Break (and Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4th etc.) just compound the problem tenfold. If you’re a smaller rig (van, B-Class, C-Class) you can fit just about anywhere and worst case, just sneak a spot to park for the night. It’s not really that big a deal. But when you’re 33,000 lbs of metal box like us there ain’t no “stealth camping” and you really DO need to find a legitimate spot to stay.
Planning ahead will work of course, but in high season on the CA coast many parks book up 6-months or more ahead and if you don’t want to or aren’t able to plan that far out (or say, you forget) you might be cr*p out of luck. Plus planning ALL your travels will end up driving you crazy over time. What if weather keeps you in a spot for a while, or other unexpected things crop up forcing you to delay and change your next 25 consecutive bookings? Trust me when I say you do NOT want to live this way.
Part of the joy of fulltime RV travel is flexibility (following the weather, moving when you don’t like a place etc.) so preserving that flexibility is really important for both your sanity and overall happiness. So how much planning is too much? And where’s the balance?
The Road Of The Partial Planner
There are ALL kinds of RV planners (AND unplanners) out there, and as I’ve written on the blog before there is NO single right way to travel. We’re pretty picky in where we stay, but we also value our flexibility so I would label us partial planners. Our normal mode of operation is to wing it through the low seasons but plan for summer and around the bigger holidays. So, before the beginning of each year we try to establish our summer plans and then nail down and book that and the big holidays. It’s bit of a pain, but it reduces our travel stress and ensures we end up in places we truly enjoy.
And since we started RVing I have to admit we’ve gotten pretty darn good at this.
For the past 4 years we’ve actually volunteer hosted every summer (on the gorgeous, weather-perfect OR/WA coast) and then we’ve planned mostly out-of-the-way private parks for the rest of the major holidays. This means we haven’t had to stress about ANY of our summer bookings and we’ve managed to “hide out” through most the big holidays, leaving the popular public parks & spaces for vacationing families. It’s worked out really well.
Un-Planning The Spring Break Surprise
Sadly, we’d forgotten about Spring Break. The past few years we’ve been in the desert boonies around this time meaning we haven’t had to worry about the whole Spring Break madness. The holiday had honestly completely fallen off our radar. Plus Spring Break is a complicated because it’s not the same days every year, or even the same in every city. Is it the first two weeks in March? Or the last two? Or the whole month? A quick Google of “when is Spring Break” reveals it could be anywhere from around mid-Feb to end of March, depending on where you go, and it changes some from year to year. That’s a big span of time to plan around, RV-wise and makes it all the easier to mess up.
So, what do you do when you’ve committed to a spot (say, the CA coast) and you’ve completely forgotten about the big upcoming holiday? Well, there’s a couple of options:
- Avoid Big “Spring Break” Locations – The most obvious answer is just to switch up your plans and avoid the popular Spring Break areas altogether. It doesn’t have to be a big change either. Sometimes just driving 20-30 miles will take you away from the madness and give you a ton more choice. Beach towns (in CA, FL, TX) are prime Spring Break locations, so if you get off the coast and go inland you’re waaaay more likely to get your choice of spots. Big party towns, like Vegas and New Orleans also top the Spring Break list so getting out of the big city and into a smaller town will open up your options too. Sometimes a small change is all it takes.
- Beat The Crowds In First-Come-First-Serve – If you don’t want to change your plans (for whatever reason) and you’re not able to book ahead your next best bet is to try and beat the crowds in a first-come-first-serve spot. Many of the CA State Parks (and the County Parks too) are “walk in only” this time of year which means they don’t take any reservations and sites are given out to folks only when they check in. So if you arrive before the first big tide of school holidays, you have a very decent chance of nabbing a spot. Then you just take advantage of the 14-day stay limit and “squat” your site until it’s all over. The key is to nail down the Spring Break dates for your particular area and then plan to arrive a few days beforehand. It’s not a guarantee, but it’ll give you a major leg up on the local influx.
- Plan For 2nd And 3rd Back-Ups – When we travel through popular spots without reservations we always have back-up plans. We typically aim for a primary spot (the place we really want to stay) and then we plan 2 backup spots just in case. Of course if all the private parks in the area are full that reduces your options quite a bit, but there’s typically some kind of overnight spot that will let you park for the night, giving you a bit of respite to search again the next day. We’re not big RV club membership people but we nonetheless keep three different resources for overnight parking (Escapees Days End, Overnight RV Parking and Harvest Hosts) for exactly this purpose, and we usually reference all of them when we’re in serious backup mode.
Our “Beastly” Spring Break Escape
When we realized our Spring Break brain fart and started calling around, our first attempts were not encouraging. All the private parks in the area, after they were able to stop laughing, politely informed us they were completely booked out (even waiting lists were maxed!), so none of them would be an option. There’s well-known beach boondocking in Pismo, but it’s OHV-central (can you say crazy noisy?!) and we were just not willing to drive the “beast” onto sand. Nope, not gonna happen.
Our absolute best bet was the local State Park which is still first-come-first-serve at this time of year. Although officially a 36ft max campground we’d heard reports that we could potentially squeeze into some of the sites. So, we stacked up the odds in our favor by targeting to arrive in Pismo full two days before the start of the very first local Spring Break holiday. Our backups were going to be a couple of Elks Lodges and a few overnight spots.
And the results? We rolled in mid-week and managed to nab one of the very last sites that could fit us. Phew! We were in!!! And the campground, despite Pismo being a popular Spring Break destination was relatively peaceful the whole time we were here. I guess all the party animals were over in the OHV area? Either way it all worked out, at least this time around. And next time we forget a major holiday? Well, we’ll just do the same thing all over again.
Coming up next -> What we got up to in Pismo/SLO area and another scintilating campground review
Related Blog Posts:
- Planning RV Travels Part I -> 4 General “Rules” For Planning Where To Stay & When To Go
- Planning RV Travels Part II -> Selecting Pace, Map Routing & Campsite
- Planning RV Travels Part III – Maps, Resources & Links
- Volunteering & Lighthouse Hosting -> See my Volunteer Tab HERE